With “The Gilded Age” Season 2 upon us — it’ll premiere on Oct. 29, according to Vanity Fair — it’s time to revisit some of the show’s most notable characters. More interestingly, the real life characters depicted in the show.
It’s no secret that “The Gilded Age” is rooted in history, but did you know that it features real life people and feuds? One of the most notable names is the Astor family, a constant source of contention for the ambitious Bertha Russell.
In reality, the Astor family played a huge role in the real-life Gilded Age. Here’s everything you need to know about the Astor family — and their potential role in “The Gilded Age” Season 2.
Who are the Astors in ‘The Gilded Age’?
According to Britannica, the Astors are a wealthy family that began in the fur trade and expanded to real estate investments in New York City. During the Gilded Age, the Astor family was at the center of upper New York society.
According to Town and Country, Mrs. Astor was the New York society socialite. She was known to host teas, receptions and opulent dinners that lasted late into the night. Mrs. Astor was famous for hosting an annual ball, always on a Monday night in January, starting with dinner at 11 p.m. and ending with “dancing until dawn.”
Who plays Mrs. Astor in ‘The Gilded Age’?
Mrs. Astor, previously known as Caroline Schermerhorn before her marriage, is portrayed by Donna Murphy in “The Gilded Age” Season 1. Murphy has been bumped up to a season regular in “The Gilded Age” Season 2, as the Deseret News previously reported.
According to Britannica, Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor “was the daughter of a wealthy merchant” and had Dutch aristocracy on both sides of her family. She married the wealthy William Astor in September 1853.
Frank Crowninshield, a Vogue society writer, wrote of Mrs. Astor: “Her taste was always for old families, old ways, old servants, old operas, old lace, and old friends. She tried always to keep society in bounds, to see that it was decorous, elegant, and select,” per Vogue. “Certainly, no subsequent period, or group of fashionable people, in American life has been so decorous or so admirably kept in hand.”
Did the Vanderbilts and the Astors get along?
According to Vogue, the fictional Bertha Russell in “The Gilded Age” is based on Alva Vanderbilt, wife of millionaire railroad tycoon William Kissam Vanderbilt. In “The Gilded Age” Season 1, there’s friction between Bertha and Mrs. Astor — which is allegedly based on a real-life rivalry between Mrs. Astor and Alva Vanderbilt.
Per Vogue, Mrs. Astor and friend Ward McCalister cultivated a list of the 400 most relevant and fashionable New Yorkers. The 400 were those who were in attendance at Mrs. Astor’s famous and lavish balls and who held her calling cards.
The Vanderbilts were not a part of the 400, most likely because they were new money — Vogue calls the Vanderbilts “nouveau riche.” No matted how much wealth the Vanderbilts amassed, the Astors remained unimpressed.
Until, that is, in March 1863, when the Vanderbilts threw a “great fancy-dress ball,” according to Vogue. The Vanderbilts spared no expense and even the staunchest Astor supporters eagerly accepted invitations.
Caroline Astor, Mrs. Astor’s daughter, reportedly assumed she was on the invitation list and was said to be “eagerly practicing her quadrille dance” by Crowninshield.
“Mrs. Vanderbilt, hearing what was brewing, was quick to point out that since Mrs. Astor had never left so much as a pasteboard at her gates, the inclusion of her daughter at the gala was most regrettably, inconceivable,” Crowninshield wrote, per Vogue. “And that was how Mrs. Astor, finding herself neatly trapped, first called at Mrs. Vanderbilt’s chateau, thereby establishing something like amity between the Montagues and the Capulets.”
Fans of “The Gilded Age” will remember a similar storyline in “The Gilded Age” Season 1 finale. Perhaps hinting at what’s to come, the Astors eventually expanded their famous 400 to include the Vanderbilts and other famous names, like J.P. Morgan. If the show continues to follow history, we might see a similar storyline play out in “The Gilded Age” Season 2 — or even in a later season.
What is the Astor family famous for?
The Astors are most known for their wealth and their life of opulence during the Gilded Age. According to History, John Jacob Astor was “America’s first multimillionaire.”
Astor is also believed to have “created the first family trust in American history,” per History. “In 1834, he created what’s believed to be America’s first family trust, consisting of 125 parcels of valuable real estate covering much of the west side of midtown Manhattan.”
The Astor’s monopoly over New York real estate gained them a nickname: “the landlords of New York.” The trust was dissolved in 1919 after the death of the Astor’s last grandchild and over a dozen Astor relatives benefitted financially.
Did the Astor family survive the Titanic?
According to Yahoo, John Jacob Astor IV — one of the richest men in the world at the time — boarded the Titanic with his pregnant wife, Madeleine Talmage Force, in 1912.
Reportedly, Astor was one of the first to know the ship was sinking. He calmly woke his wife, made sure she was wearing all her jewelry and took her to a lifeboat. Madeleine begged her husband to stay, but he allegedly told her, “The sea is calm. You’ll be alright. You’re in good hands. I’ll see you in the morning.”
According to Biography, Astor drowned on the morning of April 15, 1912. To honor her husband, Madeleine named their son John Jacob.
Does the Astor family still exist?
The Astor family remains prominent in today’s society, with Insider calling them “an American dynasty.”
Per Insider, William Astor, who is the 4th Viscount of Astor, is the stepfather of former first lady Samantha Cameron. John Jacob Astor, 3rd Baron Astor of Hever, served as under-secretary of state for defense under former Prime Minister David Cameron.
While there hasn’t been much chatter about the Astor family as of late, they were recently in the news. According to Town and Country, there was feud in 2015 over what remained of the Astor’s fortune. In the end, a judge ruled that Charlene Marshall — wife of Brooke Astor’s son — inherited the $14.5 million fortune.